Facebook will stop targeted ads based on “sensitive” topics like religion, politics, race
Social media giant Facebook (now renamed Meta) said it would no longer let advertisers target people based on their interest in “sensitive” topics such as political affiliation, religion and sexual orientation, health, race and ethnicity.
The changes will take effect from next year on Meta’s apps, including Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, and its Audience Network, which places ads on other smartphone apps.
“As of January 19, 2022, we will remove detailed targeting options related to topics that people may perceive as sensitive, such as options referring to causes, organizations or public figures related to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation,” meta-official Graham Mudd wrote in a blog post Tuesday.
The move is seen as significant in India as its most populous and politically important state, Uttar Pradesh, heads to the polls in the coming months. Fake news, manipulated ads and rreligious polarization often decides the outcome in this state which is home to 1/6th of India’s population.
Some other states like Punjab, Gujarat, Goa, Uttarakhand and Himachal will also go to the polls next year.
The issue of political advertising on Facebook and its targeted approach to influencing users in subtle ways has long sparked much debate among the public and politicians in India and abroad.
While many demanded that the content of politicians’ ads be verified and that targeted ads based on people’s political beliefs be stopped, Facebook resisted the pressure. Additionally, FB has also been accused of election manipulation in the US by sharing the data with Cambridge Analytica.
Mudd admits, “We’ve heard concerns from experts that targeting options like these could be used in ways that lead to negative experiences for people from underrepresented groups.”
In the blog post, Mudd acknowledged that the change will come at a cost to some advertisers, including small businesses, nonprofits and advocacy groups.
“They won’t be able to use interest targeting to promote causes such as lung cancer awareness or World Diabetes Day, or target users interested in gay marriage or Jewish holidays, for example. This was not a simple choice and required a balancing of competing interests where there was advocacy both ways,” he wrote.
Meta, which makes the bulk of its $86 billion in annual sales from advertising, said it is making the tough decision in an effort to prevent advertisers from using ad targeting to discriminate or harm users. .
External critics and Facebook’s own employees have pressured the company for years to rethink its approach to ads, pointing the finger at advertisers who micro-targeted people with personalized messages, excluded people in feature protected features and targeted advertisements using anti-Semitic phrases.
But the company has resisted so far, arguing that advertising is an important part of free speech, especially when it comes to political messages.
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